I tried to break the spell [Marlow says] - the heavy, mute spell of the wilderness - that seemed to draw him to its pitiless breast by the awakening of forgotten and brutal instincts, by the memory of gratified and monstrous passions.
This alone, I was convinced, had driven him out to the edge of the forest, to the bush, toward the gleam of fires, the throb of drums, the drone of weird incantations. . . . There was nothing either above or below him, and I knew it.
He had kicked himself loose of the earth. . . . His soul was made. Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself, and, by heavens! I tell you, it had gone mad. I had - for my sins, I suppose - to go through the ordeal of looking into it myself. No eloquence could have been so withering to one’s belief in mankind as his final burst of sincerity.
He struggled with himself, too. I saw it - I heard it. I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself.
- Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness p. 149-150
In Conrad’s masterful way, he portrays the struggle of the human heart through the lives of Marlow and Kurtz in his classic, Heart of Darkness.
Kurtz is the commander of the central trade station, deep in the interior of Africa, along the Congo river. Marlow, an adventure-seeking sailor, sets out on a journey to find and understand this heroic epitome of European colonialism - Kurtz and the trading empire. What he finds is an intelligent, strong-willed man gone mad.
In the above quotation, Marlow summarizes Kurtz’s state of madness. One expects him to conclude that the terribly humid and difficult atmosphere along the river, or the unpredictable behavior of the “natives,” or even the rigorous task of trading up and down the Congo led to his condition. But Marlow focuses instead on the human heart, the core of Kurtz’s being. Minus “restraint,” “faith,” and “fear,” he struggled with himself and came up horribly deficient.
As I picked up this brief paperback yesterday and began reading these words, my mind quickly went back to a documentary I viewed recently. In it the filmmakers capture the prosperity gospel in Africa, and the tragic consequences of it.
Conrad’s rich and poetic work graphically reveals what a heart of full of darkness looks like, regardless of its surroundings. With the prosperity gospel, America (and other developed countries) have deported a system into other regions that parallels that of the colonial traders of old. It has tragically taken root in the form of posh evangelists and manipulated congregations who display a distorted gospel, void of a true understanding of sola fide and future grace.
As with Kurtz, the only cure for this “heart disease” is the only true antidote for all illnesses, the cross-centered gospel of Jesus: the shame-bearing Savior “took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows” (Is 53) that we might be reconciled to the God we have spurned and worship him in spirit and in truth.
More on this documentary and its maker, Fourth Line Films.
BTW, for $5 you can pick up a paperback copy of Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer, two of Conrad’s classics. He will force you to consider human nature, which should stir you to thanksgiving for the great salvation we have in Christ.
For a look at a similar expression of this mentality: First Things: Six Flags Over Jesus